Really Guilty Pleasures

Having already confessed to loving ELO, Queen, Chris Rainbow and Dollar you’d think that I wouldn’t be able to drain any more water out of the street credibility pool. But no, in 1977 at the white-hot height of punk rock I bought a 45 of the hippy dippy song “Wondrous Stories” by those wizards of Prog Rock, Yes. Not only that, but unlike with ELO I didn’t turn off it once I got hip to punk, the awful truth is I never stopped liking it and would merrily play it alongside The Clash and Joy Division records. I know it’s wrong but the damn thing sure is pretty.

Glad I got that off my chest.

Download: Wondrous Stories – Yes (mp3)

Blame It On Caine

The only time I remember my Dad talking to me about why he left my mother and us he blamed Michael Caine. He said that a working class lad like himself was raised to think that there was a certain path your life would take: school, work, marriage, kids. So he did all that like he thought he was supposed to and by 1962 at the age of 25 he was a cab driver with a wife and two kids living in a crumbling council flat in Fulham. But then the Swinging Sixties happened and along came a new generation of stars in movies, music and the arts like Caine who were from the same working class background as my Dad and didn’t following the old, class-defined rules. Suddenly the possibility of a different kind of life appeared, just because you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth you didn’t have to be a cab driver, you could be an actor, a singer, a painter, a photographer — anything you wanted. So my old man ran away to join the theatre, hoping to become the next Michael Caine. That’s how he attempted to explain it to me anyway, personally I thought it sounded a little like self-justifying bullshit, but I don’t know how I’d feel if I found myself with a wife and two kids with an itch I’d been told I couldn’t scratch and society suddenly moved the goalposts on me like that.

There were other English actors at the time who came from similar backgrounds — Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, Terence Stamp — but none of them had the same iconic status that Caine attained with roles like Alfie Elkins, Harry Palmer, Charlie Croker, and Jack Carter which established him as the embodiment of 60s English cool, the good-looking lad from Rotherhithe with the birds and smart suits who even made glasses look sharp. And it wasn’t just my Dad, at some point in his life hasn’t every bloke wanted to be Alfie?

Download: Alfie – Cher (mp3)
Download: Get Carter (Main Theme) – Roy Budd (mp3)

Before I was old enough for “Alfie” and “Get Carter” my own formative memory of Caine revolved around the 1967 movie “Billion Dollar Brain” which was the third in the Harry Palmer series. I first saw it on telly when I was a kid and it’s just the sort of colourful spy romp that would get stuck in a young boy’s head with it’s rather comic-booky, bizarre plot involving a talking super computer, eggs full of deadly viruses, a crazy Texas oilman with a private army, and a sexy Russian spy (played by the heavenly Francoise Dorleac who was Catherine Deneuve’s older sister and sadly died in a car crash just after the film was finished.) With the lurid direction of barmy old Ken Russell it’s like a James Bond movie on drugs and nothing like the first two Palmer films which were rather dour, gritty affairs, almost like kitchen sink spy movies. Most critics hated it but I still think it’s terrific and I’m a lot older now. It also has great opening titles and the theme music by Richard Rodney Bennett is just gorgeous.

Download: Billion Dollar Brain (Main Theme) – Richard Rodney Bennett (mp3)

(Apparently it was Michael Caine’s birthday last week which had nothing to do with me writing this post. Just one of those weird coincidences.)

My brain hurts

I can’t write my way out of a paper bag at the moment. I must have half a dozen new posts on the go but I’m incapable of finishing any of them off. Either it’s because:

1) I’m too busy
2) I’m too lazy
3) What I’m writing is a load of bollocks anyway
4) I’m having an existential blogging crisis and can’t see the point
5) I’ve lost my mojo

What do you think, Graham?

Download: Don’t Ask Me Questions – Graham Parker & The Rumour (mp3)

You don’t hear this track much these days, do you? Not that I listen to the radio anymore, just a feeling I have that it’s sort of slipped off the radar. Whatever, a really great single from 1978.

In the meantime I’ve done some blog housekeeping and added a whole bunch of new links at the right. I especially like Another Nickel In The Machine which is the sort of blog I’d give my left nut to be able to write if I only could find the time, wasn’t so lazy etc. etc.

Bloody Students

Even though I was mostly listening to Northern Soul when I was at art college in the early 80s, there’s something about this ancient Everything But The Girl video that perfectly captures the feel of those days. It’s not just the hair and the clothes or their pale, skinny frames that look like they could do with a good meal, but together with the maudlin wetness of the music it’s like a Proustian sensory experience of what it was like to be a student back then. The dishwater-gray Northern sky and industrial bridge give it a real “Thatcher’s Britain” vibe too.

Of course Ben and Tracey were students themselves at the time and when they joined together to form EBTG they created the uber student couple. Art college was probably a little weirder than regular university (at least I hope it was) but I’m sure the same rules still applied: everyone listened to The Smiths and New Order, lived on beans on toast, got their hair cut by the local barber (mine was called Eric The Razor), bought their clothes second-hand from charity shops or vintage 50s emporiums like Flip, and Ben and Tracey’s gentle acoustic pop was what you heard drifting from student rooms late at night — the soundtrack to many a miserable night alone with a book or, if you were lucky, inexperienced fumblings with the bra of some cute indie girl. We were all so much younger then.

The King of Soho

A seedy era came to an end on Sunday with the death of porn king Paul Raymond. The owner of the famous Soho strip club The Revuebar and publisher of a host of soft-core nudie mags like Mayfair, Men Only and Razzle, Raymond made a considerable fortune with an empire built on tits and bums (and savvy property deals).

The Revuebar opened in the 1950s and at the time was the only venue in England to have actual naked ladies on stage moving their arms and legs (featuring such memorably-named acts as Bonnie Bell the Ding-Dong Girl and Melody Bubbles) and more than anyone Raymond was responsible for turning Soho into London’s Red Light district. It was always the centre of London’s “underground” culture with houses of ill-repute, but by the 1970s the area had turned into a rather dodgy place full of seedy peep shows and tawdry sex shops frequented by shabby old men in raincoats. The only time I ever got approached by a prostitute in Soho was one afternoon in the early 1980s when I was walking down the small street that runs alongside the Revuebar, she was a right ugly old bag too so no wonder the area had fallen on hard times if that was the quality of hooker on offer. That Soho doesn’t exist anymore — though you can see it in the film “Mona Lisa” when Bob Hoskins makes his way through London’s sordid underbelly — the area was cleaned up by the Tories who closed down the sex trade, making the way for the trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques that fill the streets now.

Raymond was probably the closest England had to a Hugh Hefner, but while Hefner promoted the image of a sophisticated man-about-town with taste, all swank bachelor pads, jazz, cocktails, and Amazonian fantasy women the likes of which you never saw in England, Raymond was more like a louche spiv with his fake tan, blow-dried hair and gold Rolls-Royce — not to mention magnificently tacky fur coats — and his magazines were far more low-rent and well, English, in their presentation. With it’s cut-price production values and Reader’s Wives, Raymond’s world of glamour was more bedsit and suburban living room than uptown penthouse, with the women generally looking like some tarty dolly bird who worked in a pub or the blushing missus of some lorry driver, a parade of cheesy grins, mottled skin and bad lighting.

But in the days before FHM and Maxim it was Raymond’s magazines that your English schoolboy looked to on the top shelf of his local newsagent’s, desperately trying to summon up the nerve to buy a copy, if only that old woman buying a copy of Woman’s Own would get a move on the coast would be clear and you could take that Mayfair or Razzle up to the counter, hoping the bloke behind the counter doesn’t ask you how old you are. Or you could always try and steal it…

Download: Razzle In My Pocket – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (mp3)